|© UNICEF Video|
|Eighteen-year-old Justine Nimugire and her sisters were orphaned in the 1994 genocide.|
By Sarah CroweUNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman is visiting Rwanda this week to meet with top officials from Government, civil society and international organizations, in order to review current challenges and opportunities for Rwanda’s response to the AIDS epidemic. HIV/AIDS is a major contributing factor to the number of orphaned children in the country.
KIGALI, Rwanda, 13 February 2006 – One of the greatest challenges facing Rwanda today is how to care for its massive population of orphans.
According to the UNICEF office in Rwanda, there are more than a million orphans in the country.
The high proportion of orphans has roots in the genocide of 1994. Since the genocide, increasing numbers of children are being orphaned as a result of HIV/AIDS. In Rwanda it is common to see older children raising younger ones by themselves.
Tens of thousands of children in Rwanda are forced to eke out a living on the land without help from adults. For the past seven years, UNICEF and Rwanda’s Ministry of Social Affairs have been helping children gain specialized skills in agriculture and providing them with tools and other supplies.
|© UNICEF Video|
|Justine tends to her garden in the village of Buliza, near Kigali. Giving children specialized agricultural skills and tools has been one way that UNICEF and Rwanda’s Ministry of Social Affairs are helping orphans like Justine to cope.|
UNICEF provides material support in the form of chickens, goats, vegetable seeds, fertilizer, hoes, blankets and household utensils. At least 75,000 children have benefited from the programme.
Eighteen-year-old Justine Nimugire and her sisters live in the village of Buliza near Kigali. They were orphaned during the 1994 genocide. Today Justine has learnt how to pluck the most out of their little patch of land, as a result of the skills programme.
She’s bursting with pride, but it hasn’t been easy.
“For children like us who live in child headed households, when we have no parents, we live under very difficult conditions,” says Justine.
“Life is very hard and there are times when we are actually even starving. But when we are lucky enough to get help from people who help us out and support us, like giving us these skills, then it does make a difference.”
For Justine and her sisters, these new skills mean they can now live off the profits from their picture postcard garden.
More than 570 agricultural associations have already been created by orphaned children. These young farmers sell surplus produce at the local market to pay for their brothers’ and sisters’ medical and education expenses.
UNICEF has also helped to develop the income-earning abilities of orphaned children through vocational training in areas such as tailoring, electrical repair, carpentry, masonry, fishing and animal husbandry.
Volunteer counselling for a new generation
The scars of the genocide are deep in the consciousness of these orphans. In order to develop through childhood and adolescence into a new generation of nation-building adults, many of them need counselling and special attention.
With this in mind, UNICEF introduced a mentoring programme in 2001. Adult neighbours of orphans volunteer their services and receive instruction to become well versed in children’s rights. In the mornings and evenings, the volunteer ‘mothers’ and ‘fathers’ visit the children, talk to them and try to advise them on everyday problems.
UNICEF correspondent Sabine Dolan contributed to this report.
13 February 2006: UNICEF’s Sarah Crowe reports on Rwanda’s orphaned children and how UNICEF and the Rwandan government are helping them cope.